It comes with the territory of being a business owner. It’s often inevitable, out of your control and tends to pop up at the worst time. Can you guess what it is?

The dreaded, negative customer review!

If you’re a business owner with an online platform dedicated to customer correspondence, engagement and testimonials, then you’ve experienced this kind of frustration. It’s jarring—you’ve poured your heart into your business, you work every day to meet the growing demands of clients, and you certainly didn’t intend to cause whatever issue is being publicly discussed.

As frustrating and even infuriating as these reviews can be, the bottom line is they aren’t going to simply disappear—they require your attention in one way or another.

The first piece of advice we’ll offer is very simple: stay calm. Studies over the years have shown that people are more likely to leave a review after a negative experience than a positive one. As the business owner, it’s important to not respond with the same kind of emotional, knee-jerk reaction that caused the customer to leave their scathing critique. Stay calm by remembering that one review doesn’t usually reflect your business as a whole.

So, you’ve paused, taken a breath and relaxed a bit. Now what? First you should decide if the allegations require a direct response. Forbes’ article on the topic of when to “defend your brand” offers three questions to ask yourself to determine if a response is appropriate:

1. Is the review fact or opinion? Factual errors certainly warrant a response, but no one wins in a battle of opinion.

2. Who is the best messenger? Getting into a one-on-one debate is rarely helpful. Is there a reliable third party available to mitigate?

3. Who has the most to lose? A Stanford Business School study shows that even negative publicity can positively impact lesser known companies or individuals. Think about the players and motivations involved before engaging.

In most cases, we’d argue a response is appropriate. Yelp tends to agree saying that, “by contacting your reviewer and establishing a genuine human relationship, you have a chance to help the situation and maybe even change this customer’s perspective for the better.” Furthermore, by not responding to criticism, the public is more inclined to believe the negative review as accurate. Ignoring the problem just might give it strength.

This means it’s now time to figure out what to say to protect, repair or maybe change your reputation. There are many sites with many tips to help you. But they all tend to follow the same general rules. The first is simply to listen. Pay attention to what the customer is saying and make sure you understand the nature of the complaint.

After that, have a game plan. This means that you and your team should all be on the same page about your online goals. How do you want to be perceived? What knowledge about your company will customers gain from reading your response?

Next, it’s important to be transparent. Is the reviewer actually correct and your team made a mistake? Say so. Apologize for shortcomings and offer a solution—no one is perfect, but owning up to these imperfections will add value to your brand.

Finally, make sure your response is thoughtful. Draft it, review it, proof read it. You may even want to get a second pair of eyes to look it over. Use the resources at your disposal to manage your reputation online—often your marketing team is the best resource available.

In the end, no matter what your industry, it’s impossible to please everyone. By staying true to your brand, sticking to your strategy and remembering to breathe through the criticism you can be sure your brand’s reputation is protected for the long haul.

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